CONCERT COVERAGE: PEARL JAM | THE AIR CANADA CENTRE

pj tour

Words By: Gerrod Harris

On May 10th, Pearl Jam performed the first of a pair of sold our shows in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, the second of which has been moved from the 11thto the 12th due to a conflicting schedule with the NBA playoffs, to which a sarcastic Eddie Vedder stated that “they better win”, and they most certainly did!

The first Pearl Jam show went off without a single hitch.  There is nothing to complain about, nor is there anything I would have changed.  Of course there will always be that one song that each fan wants to hear for their own personal reason, but when a band has been one of the most relevant forces of modern rock for the last 25 years (I dare you to find more than 3 other artists who tour without an opener and can sell out two consecutive shows in the same city), there set list will reflect that and simply cannot include it all.  At one point they even made a mistake, to which the band stopped and a humorous Vedder replied “even vinyl skips from time to time. Now excuse us as we clean the needle”.  Despite this, it was still flawless.

Kicking off their set with aggressive pushing and pulling of “Go”, the band continued to blast through “Do The Evolution” and “Mind Your Manners”.  From that point, the band commenced to perform all of 2000’s Binaural; a record less known due to its lack of hits, but a true treasure trove of deep cuts of the likes of “Evacuation”, “Soon Forget”, which featured a solo Vedder on a ukulele, dedicating the song to that “rich fuck, Donald Trump”, “Thin Air”, and “Nothing As It Seems” where guitarist Mike McCready delivered multiple soulfully dissonant solos.

On the note of McCready; the man is a monster on the guitar.  To most Pearl Jam fans, this goes without saying, but watching him live as he performs certain solos note for note, and overs in a more improvisatory manner, was simply incredible.  Of the entire set, the four which stuck out the most was the iconic solos at the end of “Alive”-during which, McCready proceeded to walk along the perimeter of the standing section of the audience-, the aforementioned beauty of “Nothing As It Seems”, the solo and many licks of “State Of Love And Trust”, and the extended and jaw dropping solo of “Even Flow”.  I seriously believe that Mike McCreadyis among one of the greatest guitarists to emerge during the 1990’s and deserves far more recognition than he receives.  Each member of the band, for that matter, performed excellently, whether it be the Vedder’s roars, or the blistering beats of drummer Matt Cameron, the musicality- and the immense amount of stage presence, especially between Vedder and McCready- which keeps Pearl Jam going is also likely the reason as to why, even after 25 years, they are still a crucial and leading band in the rock sphere as opposed to drifting into the legacy act category.

Following the play through of Binaural, Pearl Jam performed “Corduroy”, “Once” and the explosive “Rearviewmirror”.  This led into a short break where the band would return to perform a few slower numbers, including John Lennon’s “Imagine”, also bringing out a 12-string acoustic guitar played by Stone Gossard and a jet black cello by bassist Jeff Ament.   At this point, Vedder also declared that proceeds from the two Toronto shows will be donated to the various organizations involved with the horrible fires at Fort McMurray, Alberta. Throughout the rest of their set, they would also perform Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, “The Real Me” by The Who, and would close their set with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World”, where they invited Mississauga native, guitarist Donna Grantis– of Prince’s former 3rdeyegirl backing band- to lay out a killer solo.

Pearl Jam performed for a perfect 3 hours, breaking the curfew allowed by the ACC.  As their performance progressed, the band only seemed to get more energized, and their antics more over the top.  On numerous occasions, both McCready and Vedder could be seen playing, quite literally, to the audience as they leaned over the barriers which separated them and twice the band would be serenaded by fans.  The first of which when Vedder leaned into a fan and the two sang together.  As for the second, Vedder dropped the microphone over the edge of the stage during “Alive” and two fans were not only lucky enough to catch it, but were encouraged by Vedder to sing the next few lines.  To provide equal opportunity, the band stood at the back of the stage facing those who had rear view seating to perform their swaying anthem, “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town”.  Showmanship of this caliber demonstrates far more than the typical rockstar persona.  Pearl Jam is larger than life, but incredibly thoughtful to their fans and the community which surrounds them.  This is ever so apparent in their performance.  They make it their job to go above being the talented musicians that they are by ensuring that everyone leaves with an incredible experience.  They certainly delivered just that.  It is impossible to pick a set of highlights.  This performance in itself was a highlight among the many concerts most have ever seen. For years, Pearl Jam has been one of my favorite bands, so much so that a verse from “I Am Mine” is tattooed on my arm, but I had yet to see them live.  This concert was over five years of hype caused by amble stories, countless live recordings, and personal hopes and it still managed to exceed each of my expectations.  I truly understand why people have seen the band dozens of times and have even trekked cross country to watch them perform.  One man, whom I met waiting in line at the merch booth, mentioned that a friend of his has seen the band 102 times, which following last night, is not even the slightest bit absurd.  With absolutely no signs of aging or slowing down, Pearl Jam is, without a doubt, one of the greatest live acts ever.

 Pearl Jam’s setlist:

1: Go

2: Do The Evolution

3: Mind Your Manners

4: Breakerfall

5: God’s Dice

6: Evacuation

7: Light Years

8: Nothing As It Seems

9: Thin Air

10: Insignificance

11: Of The Girl

12: Grievance

13: Rival

14: Sleight Of Hand

15: Soon Forget

16: Parting Ways

17: Corduroy

18: Once

19: Rearviewmirror

20: Imagine

21: Let Me Sleep

22: Comfortably Numb

23: Even Flow

24: Down

25: Better Man

26: Porch

27: Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town

28: Given To Fly

29: State Of Love And Trust

30: Black

31: The Real Me

32: Alive

33: Rockin’ In The Free World

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